DEIDESHEIM, Germany – A leading German winemaker awoke Tuesday to find his prized grape harvest had been swiped overnight by thieves.
The crooks crept into the celebrated Von Winning vineyard under cover of darkness equipped with industrial harvesting machines, according to Der Spiegel.
They were able to pluck 5,500 pounds (2,500kg) of the premium fruit, worth around €100,000 ($137,000), before making off undetected.
Winemaker Stephen Attmann only learned of the crushing crime when he inspected his crop Tuesday morning and came across row after row of bare Pinot noir vines. The theft has imperiled production of his award-winning red that sells at €32 a bottle.
Fans of Attmann's wine include German President Christian Wulff, who visited the vineyard in Deidesheim, southwestern Germany, with 180 diplomats earlier this summer for a tasting.
"We are suffering spiritually, not just financially," Attmann told German news agency DPA.
Industry experts say the theft was the latest in a spate of grape-rustling incidents, most likely orchestrated by a desperate competitor.
"There were professionals at work, probably a winegrower whose grapes were destroyed by frost or hail," said Ernst Buscher, spokesman for the German Wine Institute.
Police are investigating but Attmann hopes his superior palate will lead him to the perpetrator, Der Spiegel said. He's on the hunt for a "super wine" produced by a winemaker "who is otherwise not known for such high quality," the news magazine wrote.